Dayton General Hospital doesn’t have a full-time neurologist on staff.
But if a patient arrives at the small, rural medical facility in the midst of a stroke, a neurologist can be at his or her side in seconds.
That’s because the hospital taps into Providence St. Joseph Health’s telestroke network, thanks to help from Kadlec Regional Medical Center in Richland, a Providence affiliate.
Being able to access the network “(has) raised the level of care,” said Dr. Lewis Neace, director of Dayton General’s emergency department. “I think it’s an exciting development.”
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Providence’s telehealth program uses technology to connect patients “with the care they need, wherever they are.”
At Dayton General, that means using a telehealth unit — a rolling cart with a camera and a computer — to dial up a Providence stroke neurologist, who consults with the physician in the room to decide on a treatment plan and help with a patient transfer if needed.
When it comes to a stroke, every second counts, so that kind of rapid response means a far better chance of a good outcome, officials said.
The clot-busting drug called TPA, for example, can be highly effective in stroke treatment, but it has to be administered quickly and properly.
Having access to a stroke doctor 24 hours a day, within minutes is very important.
Dr. Todd Czartoski, Providence neurologist and chief medical technology officer
“It’s a decision that’s made in conjunction with a stroke doctor, an ER doctor who’s physically there and of course the patient and the family,” said Dr. Todd Czartoski, a Providence neurologist and chief medical technology officer.
“Having access to a stroke doctor 24 hours a day, within minutes is very important,” he said.
The Columbia County Health System, which includes Dayton General, has a few telehealth units. Kadlec secured a roughly $600,000 federal grant to pay for them and more than a dozen others; they’re in use in several rural hospitals around the region, including Prosser, Othello and Heppner hospitals, to name a few.
Kadlec, which was involved in telemedicine before joining Providence in 2014, helped set them up and provides training and support.
Providence is one of the largest nonprofit health systems in the U.S., with 50 hospitals, more than 800 clinics and other facilities and services across seven states.
Its telehealth program includes stroke care along with several other specialties, from hospitalist to psychiatry.
Cass Bilodeau, who’s based at Kadlec and is Providence’s regional director for regional outreach, development and telemedicine, said telehealth programs like Providence’s remove barriers to care.
(Telemedicine) meets the patients’ needs where the patients need the care. It leverages physicians to be able to get them out to these community.
Cass Bilodeau, Providence regional director for telemedicine
“(Telemedicine) meets the patients’ needs where the patients need the care,” she said. “It leverages physicians to be able to get them out to these community.”
Shane McGuire, CEO of Columbia County Health System, noted that people heal better when they’re near family and in an area they’re familiar with — two things telemedicine can help make happen.
At Dayton General on a recent morning, officials demonstrated the telestroke system.
A health system board member volunteered to play “patient,” complaining of stroke-like symptoms.
Neace, the emergency department director, began rattling off questions. “Do you have a headache? Feel dizzy?” he asked.
He had the “patient” squeeze his hands, hold out his arms, shrug his shoulders.
The future is bright. We’ve just scratched the surface of what telehealth networks are capable of.
Shane McGuire, CEO of Columbia County Health System
Meanwhile, Czartoski came online from Seattle. His face popped up on the telehealth unit’s screen, and he and Neace talked about the patient, what they saw.
“On the NIH stroke scale, he would have 4 points for the arm and legs, since I see no movement whatsoever,” Czartoski said.
“None,” Neace said.
They calculated more points. They came up with a plan — all in a few minutes, with Neace on one side of the state and Czartoski on the other.
McGuire, the Columbia County Health System CEO, said his hospital is using telemedicine primarily for stroke care, but the expansion possibilities are exciting.
“The future is bright. We’ve just scratched the surface of what telehealth networks are capable of,” he said.